DNP Capstone Project

  • Understanding the Basics of a DNP Project
  • How to Develop a DNP Project Using an Evidence-Based Approach
  • Stages and Components of a DNP Project
  • DNP Project Ideas

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The Doctor of Nursing Practice DNP project represents the culmination of your doctoral studies and an opportunity for you to translate your acquired knowledge into practice. It is also the epitome of the practice-focused DNP and an essential part of the integrative practice experience. Preparing your DNP project is an exciting time, as it allows you to lay the groundwork for future scholarship while at the same time giving you a chance to make a potentially meaningful contribution to improving nursing practice and patient outcomes.

In a whitepaper published in August 2015 entitled The Doctor of Nursing Practice: Current Issues and Clarifying Recommendations , the AACN recommended that the DNP Project be referred to simply as the “DNP Project” as a way to distinguish it from final projects in other types of graduate programs. While the term DNP Project is still commonly used, it’s worth noting that schools and professional organizations are in the process of uniformly adopting the term “DNP Project.”

what is a dnp capstone project

Here’s what you’ll want to know:

What is a DNP Project?

A DNP project is the umbrella term used to describe a scholarly project with the express purpose of translating evidence into practice. You may also hear it referred to as a final or research DNP project. Your DNP project will reflect your specialization/area of interest, allowing you to delve deep and create a project focused on clinical practice . You will use your DNP project to demonstrate mastery of your advanced nursing specialty.

Fortunately, given the wide breadth of clinical nursing practice, your choices for a DNP project are nearly limitless.

For example, your DNP project may be a practice portfolio that explores the impact or outcomes of nursing practice, or it may be a practice change initiative represented by a program evaluation. It may be a quality improvement project, a consulting project, or the evaluation of a new practice model. It may be a practice topic dissemination, a systemic review, or a manuscript submitted for publication—and that’s just to start.

Although DNP projects may take on various forms, depending on your college/university’s requirements and your area of advanced nursing practice, all DNP projects have three things in common: They all include planning, implementation, and evaluation components.

These components reflect the American Association of Colleges of Nursing’s (AACN) DNP Essentials, which states that a DNP project should be able to successfully integrate some or all of the following into practice:

All projects should be designed so that processes/outcomes can be evaluated to guide practice and policy, and all should provide a foundation for future practice scholarship.

What is the Purpose of the DNP Project?

The goal of the DNP project is to inform the methods you will use to deliver care and educate others in your chosen population/community. You will use the DNP project to demonstrate your ability to lead and practice at the highest level of clinical nursing practice.

You will be asked to integrate a number of skills into your final project:

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This is your time to shine, so don’t let the task of choosing a DNP project stress you out.

Using your area of clinical expertise as a springboard, develop your project using an evidence-based process:

An example of how one DNP student followed this 5-step evidence-based process to develop a change project with the goal of increasing vaccination among healthcare personnel working in a college:

Step 1. A change project was initiated to increase influenza vaccination among healthcare personnel at a college

Step 2. Barriers to vaccination as well as factors that would help facilitate vaccination were identified using a pre-intervention questionnaire survey

Step 3. Interventions were planned based on the findings of the pre-intervention questionnaire survey

Step 4. Interventions were implemented

Step 5. The effectiveness of the interventions was assessed through a post-intervention survey

An example of how one DNP student followed this 5-step evidence-based process to develop a quality improvement project with the goal of reducing delays in treatment for patients with hand trauma:

Step 1. A quality improvement project was initiated to avoid delays in care for patients with hand trauma

Step 2. Over 2,000 consultations and notes from emergency room and urgent care departments were reviewed to assess adherence to guidelines for treating hand trauma

Step 3. Factors associated with a lack of adherence to treatment guidelines were identified

Step 5. Outcomes were assessed

Questions to Ask

One of the best ways to ensure your DNP project accomplishes your objectives is to ask yourself questions to make sure the project meets the required standards:

The steps required to complete a DNP project will also vary somewhat from one program to the next. Generally speaking, DNP projects include the following stages:


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what is a dnp capstone project

As the proposed 2015 DNP deadline nears , more and more nurse practitioners and NP students are electing to get doctorate degrees. As with any transition, the push to make the DNP mandatory has raised a lot of questions, one being “what exactly is included in the DNP curriculum?”. The answer? A major component of every DNP program across the country is the DNP capstone project.

What is a DNP capstone project?

There are two main types of doctorate programs in nursing , the PhD and the DNP. In PhD programs, students are essentially prepared to become nurse scientists. PhD students complete a dissertation which is usually a research-focused project. DNP students, however, focus on bringing this scientific knowledge into practice and integrating it into patient care. So, DNP students complete a practice-focused project.  This project is known as the DNP capstone project.

The DNP capstone project synthesizes knowledge from the nursing education and puts this toward investigating a practice-based problem. Students are encouraged to put to use the skills they have learned throughout their practice and education towards solving a clinical problem. The capstone project is not like a traditional scientific study where students test a hypothesis, but rather DNP students complete an in-depth analysis or test an intervention. For example, students may complete a project  directed towards on improving practice outcomes, or developing a strategic plan for healthcare delivery .

Not all nursing schools refer to this project as a “capstone project”. Some universities, for example, may refer to the experience as a “DNP scholarly project”. While the title of the project may vary, the purpose of these assignments is similar with the overarching structure and goal comparable from program to program.

What types of capstone projects can students complete?

The options for DNP students when it comes to capstone projects are endless. Students may modify a practice system to make it more efficient or effective, analyze a local or national healthcare policy , implement technological change to improve patient outcomes, design a health education program, or perform a systematic review of a clinical guideline, to name a few.

In choosing a topic for your capstone project, it can be helpful to look at past students’ topics to get an idea for how to structure your research proposal. Some examples of past capstone projects for the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing include:

What does the project require?

The first step in a DNP capstone project is selecting a topic by identifying an area of interest within a specified practice area. Students typically begin selecting a topic for their capstone project early in the first semester of the DNP program. Thinking about the topic for the capstone project is often integrated into the curriculum for DNP classes helping students prepare for the project.

Then, students begin doing background research on their topic evaluating these resources and further defining their research question. Essentially, this is a systematic review of pre-existing literature on your subject. Next, students design their project. For example, students may choose to perform an intervention with a particular patient population and must structure the best method for carrying out this intervention.

Once the project design is finalized, students implement the design, performing their intervention or analysis and evaluate the results. Towards the end of the project, DNP students must write a paper summarizing their research, design and project outcomes. Many schools encourage students to submit these papers to scholarly publications. Finally, students deliver a public oral presentation and defense of their research.

The DNP capstone project is a major undertaking but can be an interesting and rewarding way to further your education and explore your interests. Will you take on the challenge?

You Might Also Like: Brainstorm- Ideas for Your DNP Capstone Project

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The DNP Project: What Is It Exactly and Why Is It Necessary?

Sep 30, 2019 | Blog , Career Advice , DNP

DNP project

Anyone who is in a DNP program already knows about the final DNP project. But if you’re thinking about pursuing a DNP , you need to know more about it.

Stephen Ferrara, DNP, FNP, FAANP, FNAP, Associate Dean, Clinical Affairs & Associate Professor, Columbia University School of Nursing; Editor in Chief, Journal of Doctoral Nursing Practice ; and Executive Director, The Nurse Practitioner Association New York State, took time to answer our questions about the final DNP project (also known as the capstone project—please note that these terms will be used interchangeable in this story). What follows is an edited version of our interview.

For those who don’t have a DNP and may not know what the DNP project is, please explain what it is and why it’s necessary.

Completion of a final DNP project or capstone in doctoral programs is intended to demonstrate the students’ synthesis of knowledge gained during the program. DNP students should be familiar with AACN’s Essentials of Doctoral Education for Advanced Nursing Practice since most, if not all, DNP programs are expected to adhere to this document.

In essence, the faculty utilize the final project as means of evaluating whether the student has developed mastery of the concepts within the students’ course of doctoral study. The final project must show an improve to clinical practice and/or patient outcomes.

How long do nursing students usually spend on their projects? What are they expected to accomplish?

Projects vary in length but are generally 1-1 1/2 years. Some examples of final DNP projects include a quality improvement initiative or other clinical practice change such as a pilot study, implementation and evaluation of a new practice model with scholarly dissemination in the forms of manuscripts for peer-review submission. 

When they embark on these projects, what should DNP nursing students keep in mind to help things go smoothly?

One of my mentors would remind me that the final project was not meant to be my “life’s work.” In other words, the application of the final project needed to be transferrable. The education and skills we learned could be applied to different clinical issues, populations, and settings. The project needed to stay on a reasonable timeline so that it could be completed. This concept differs somewhat from PhD studies, where students typically focus on a specialty and continue throughout their career. Also, PhD dissertations can last through many semesters. Finally, strong organizational skills are essential since there are many inter-related parts that need to be coordinated to ensure success.

What are the biggest challenges for nursing students in completing their projects?

I would say that there are two main challenges: 1. Having too broad or too ambitious of a project and 2. Not adhering to timelines. This can jeopardize the entire project.

If a student is having issues with his/her project, what should they do?

DNP students need to regularly meet and communicate with their faculty advisors. Advisors should help students navigate through unanticipated challenges, bureaucratic delays, and unexpected results. Other DNP graduates or mentors can also students with some issues they may encounter. “Crowd sourcing” through social media may also help students with general issues they may encounter.

What else should nursing students—and nurses who don’t have and aren’t yet pursuing a DNP, but might in the future—know about the DNP final project?

Doctoral work in any discipline is synthesizing information. Final DNP projects tend to take existing high-level evidence and implement or apply to different practice setting rather than creating new evidence as is done with the PhD.

In addition, DNP work should not end with the final project. The expectation is for DNP graduates to continue contributing to the scholarly application and dissemination on their work throughout their careers. I encourage anyone wanting to see examples of this scholarly work to visit the Journal of Doctoral Nursing Practice (JDNP) website or check with their institutions’ library.

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Determining A DNP Capstone Project

A DNP capstone project can be one of the most daunting components of the DNP education process, but choosing a topic that is relevant, researchable and that really impacts nursing practice can help achieve project success.


Make it relevant, researchable and really impactful

what is a dnp capstone project

By Deborah Small, DNP, MSN, RN, NE-BC

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services Policy

The executive nurse leadership team at Cleveland Clinic feels strongly that well-rounded, clinical practice-oriented leadership training is key to successful leadership. Thus, many of the health system’s associate chief nursing officers and chief nursing officers have earned their doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree, are currently working to earn it, or will soon begin their DNP education journey.


Deborah Small, DNP, MSN, RN, NE-BC

As with most advanced education programs, one of the most daunting components of the DNP education process is completion of the culminating capstone project.

Depending on project complexity, it can take a significant amount of time to complete a project of this magnitude. Coupled with the fact that most nurses are in full-time nursing roles, working to earn a DNP degree means there is much to consider when selecting an area of focus for a capstone project.

To begin, the topic chosen should be something the DNP student is passionate about – not only for the student’s enjoyment, but also to help avoid potential burnout if the project takes an extended amount of time to complete. Beyond that, consider the following three “Rs” when selecting a project topic:

Make sure the project is relevant

Relevance is key when selecting a capstone topic. To make a project successful, the topic chosen should be something that accomplishes a goal or meets a need.

A good starting point is for the student to conduct a situation analysis. This means evaluating potential problems or challenges associated with area(s) of expertise by reviewing issues with nursing staff and gathering feedback on problems they identify. Down the road, staff members may be involved in the data gathering process or project action planning so it is ideal to engage them and get their input as early as possible.

When completing my DNP capstone project, I chose ‘bedside handoff’ as my topic. Even though bedside handoffs were recognized as a best practice at Cleveland Clinic Fairview Hospital , I knew it was a practice area my staff struggled to sustain.

Observation audits had revealed migration away from the bedside and back to the nursing station for report. Nurse communication scores on several acute care units were stagnant or trending downward. And interviews with staff nurses revealed discomfort with bedside handoff processes, as well as a lack of adequate training.

Select a topic that is researchable

Another key recommendation is to choose a topic that is fully researchable. First, reach out to research experts for added guidance. They can offer valuable insight when it comes to idea review as well as how to narrow project focus.

Additionally, a thorough literature review of a proposed topic idea can offer a better understanding of how to build or enhance a project’s relevant knowledge and practice. For example, when conducting my literature review, I found more than 300 articles on my chosen topic, but only 27 had scientific evidence using experimental, qualitative, quantitative and descriptive design. Thanks to this review, it was clear there was a need for more practice validation.

However, I then needed to narrow my topic and state the problem and hypothesis. Narrowing a topic can be harder than one may think. In my case, ‘bedside handoff’ was very broad, but as I began to delve into my identified problem areas through staff interviews, I found nurses’ attitudes played an important role in the bedside handoff practice.

From this research, I was able to hypothesize that a standardized toolkit with educational and demonstrated instruction would improve the attitudes of nurses in performing the bedside handoff. As I continued with my project, I measured nurse attitudes before and after implementing a standardized bedside handoff process to ensure proper evidence-based evaluation.

Focus on results that will really impact nursing practice

Finally, a chosen DNP capstone topic should be something that can make a positive impact on nursing practice.

Spend careful time determining the appropriate methodology – qualitative, quantitative, descriptive, quality study, or quality improvement – as all can move practice forward, but not all are equally impactful, which affects how best to proceed.

To measure the impact the work will have on nursing practice, tool selection and/or development is important. However, it is worth noting that newly developed tools may require validity studies and could affect proposed timelines so using an existing tool may move project work more quickly. Existing research tools are fairly easy to come across through simple online research. For example, I was able to identify a tool in my literature review, called ‘nurses assessment of bedside shift report.’

Other tips for success

In addition to following the three “Rs – relevant, researchable, and really impactful – when selecting a DNP capstone project topic, other tips for success during a DNP capstone course, include:

In summary, a capstone project should offer new findings or validate best practices or interventions. It should be relevant, researchable and really impact nursing practice. A capstone project should allow a nursing student to apply what he or she has learned from the didactic portion of the DNP program in a way that showcases mastery of the research essentials.

Deborah Small is the Vice President of Patient Care Services and Chief Nursing Officer of Cleveland Clinic Fairview Hospital.

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DNP - Capstone Project

Capstone project.

All students enrolled in the University of Southern Indiana Doctor of Nursing Practice Program will complete an evidence-based capstone project.

The capstone project is a culmination of the knowledge gained in the DNP courses. The primary objective of these projects is the improvement of healthcare outcomes in the practice setting. These evidence based projects may include changes in the healthcare delivery system, organizational changes that impact healthcare at the local, regional and national level and legislation and health care policies that reduce healthcare disparities.

Students will fully identify their project during the first semester capstone course (see project plan below) and continue to develop it through subsequent capstone courses and continue to develop it through subsequent capstone courses. The project must be completed before graduation.

To complete the capstone project, each student will be assigned a faculty mentor. The student will also have a practice partner(s) who will collaborate with the faculty mentor and student on the capstone project. The practice partner will:

The DNP capstone project plan will include:

Types of DNP projects

To meet graduation requirements, the capstone project will include:

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School of Nursing, University of Michigan

Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Projects

Implementation of a Rothman index alert to facilitate MICU transfer in patients with end stage liver disease Kelly Grimshaw

Enhancing patient safety through decreasing non-actionable cardiac telemetry alarms and alarm fatigue Raja Issa

Implementation of a survivorship care plan program in a community-based oncology clinic Stephanie Soulia

Early prediction of patient deterioration using Sequential Organ Failure Assessment (SOFA) by the Rapid Response Team (RRT) Fadi Islim

Multi-factorial strategies for sustaining safe patient handling: An evidence-based doctor of nursing practice demonstration project Deborah Totzkay

Hospital-to-homecare videoconference handoff improves communication, coordination of care, & patient/family engagement Suzanne Knight

The feasibility and use of simulation to assess parent learning Michelle Whalen

Nurse manager leadership styles: A baseline assessment Carol Dwyer

A fall prevention training to improve nurses' knowledge and behavior Leila Cherara

Project BEAN: Building evidence based practice capacity across the nation Anne Marie McLeod

Formal mentorship: Bridging the gap between nurse practitioner's education and practice Dejuana Jackson

The flipped classroom and case-based learning in a graduate program of nurse anesthesia: A process improvement project Cynthia Farina

The impact of adding an APRN to the therapeutic response team Jason Wannemacher

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DNP graduates remain in practice, leading cross-professional teams in the improvement and provision of informed quality healthcare.  Graduates apply disciplined processes and translate strong evidence into practice to achieve complex, innovative change. They rely on their ability to analyze intricate and rapidly changing practice problems; critically evaluate and synthesize evidence relevant to those problems; effectively communicate complex concepts across disciplines; engage teams in quality improvement; and evaluate outcomes in the face of significant flux, making use of unkempt data originally obtained for other purposes.  This work demands clear and compelling communication, strong analytic abilities, and flexible leadership at the systems level.

The knowledge, skills, and abilities to conduct such work is developed across the program and applied in the conduct of the DNP final project.  The DNP final project is the student’s original work that establishes them as a Hopkins Nursing clinical scholar.  Completion of the project demonstrates the student has achieved the program outcomes and provides evidence of:

Upon completion of the DNP final project the student engages in thoughtful reflection focused on project execution in order to support ongoing professional development and identify institution-wide opportunities for ongoing performance improvement.

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Time to Define the DNP Capstone Project : Clinical Nurse Specialist

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Time to Define the DNP Capstone Project

Mayo, Ann M. DNSc, RN, CNS, FAAN

The author reports no conflicts of interest.

Correspondence: Ann M. Mayo, DNSc, RN, CNS, FAAN, 806 Vanitie Court, San Diego, CA 92109 ( [email protected] ).

what is a dnp capstone project

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  1. What Is a DNP Capstone Project?

    The DNP capstone project (most often referred to as a DNP final project) takes place near the end of your DNP program. It is your opportunity to take your

  2. DNP Capstone Project Guide

    A DNP project is the umbrella term used to describe a scholarly project with the express purpose of translating evidence into practice. You may also hear it

  3. What is a DNP Capstone Project?

    The DNP capstone project synthesizes knowledge from the nursing education and puts this toward investigating a practice-based problem.

  4. The DNP Project: What Is It Exactly and Why Is It Necessary?

    Completion of a final DNP project or capstone in doctoral programs is intended to demonstrate the students' synthesis of knowledge gained

  5. Determining A DNP Capstone Project

    It should be relevant, researchable and really impact nursing practice. A capstone project should allow a nursing student to apply what he or

  6. DNP

    The capstone project is a culmination of the knowledge gained in the DNP courses. The primary objective of these projects is the improvement of healthcare

  7. Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Projects

    It is an evidence-based practice project geared towards improving patient outcomes and/or care processes. The following are some of the DNP capstone project

  8. DNP Final Project

    The DNP final project is the student's original work that establishes them as a Hopkins Nursing clinical scholar. Completion of the project demonstrates the

  9. DNP Projects

    Doctor of Nursing Practice Program. DNP Projects. 2022. Projects. 2021. Projects [PDF]. 2020.

  10. Time to Define the DNP Capstone Project : Clinical Nurse Specialist

    Time to Define the DNP Capstone Project · 1. Absent university level oversight · 2. Evidence issues: myth or reality? · 3. Misunderstanding of the scope of the DNP